My awesome critique partner gave me a pile of suggestions for how I might shorten my manuscript. Here’s my plan for dealing with them.
If you get my monthly digest, you might know that I recently finished the fifth draft of my work in progress (WIP) and enlisted the help of my wonderful critique partner, Anna Kaling, to figure out how to cut 40k words.
Anna got back to me at 3am this morning, and all I could do before work was read her email in a whirlwind of excitement. (Don’t you hate it when real life gets in the way of writing?)
She had some very encouraging things to say, and she suggested some characters and plot threads that she found less than essential to the story.
I was thrilled by her reaction. Then her suggested excisions sank in.
But everything needs to be there!
That’s why I put it there. It’s all interwoven in an intricate, tangled, lopsided, deformed mess of tentacles.
Okay, maybe some parts don’t need to be there. In fact, I hope some parts don’t need to be there, because I need to cut a lot. I may have mentioned that.
I think the natural way to approach suggestions that you cut scenes you’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting, after you stop screaming, is by arguing.
The shark-infested tornado needs to be there because otherwise the main character would never discover the dragons’ treasure.
I stop and take a deep breath.
I can feel my resistance to changing anything major, even when I know it will improve my story, and so I’ve come up with a strategy to evaluate the comments.
Anna says, “you could cut X”.
I don’t think, “but X needs to stay”. (Okay, I probably do, but then I move on.)
Instead I ask, “supposing I was going to cut X, how would I do it? What else would I change so the rest would make sense?”
Somehow this bypasses my resistance. I’m not asking if I should cut X. I’m assuming I’m going to. The question is the best way to do it.
Without doing any editing, I pull at the threads, snip and reweave, and envision my story without X and everything that goes with it.
Let’s call this version B.
A suggestion that something can be cut might not mean it should be cut. It might mean that I haven’t accomplished the purpose I was aiming at and need to add something.
Let’s consider X again.
Now I ask myself why it lived through five rounds of editing. What do I think its purpose is?
Is the same purpose served by something or someone else?
Does it have a worthy purpose that it fails to achieve?
Supposing I were going to beef it up to ensure it served its intended purpose, how would I do that?
I envision my story with this element enhanced and improved.
We’ll call this version C.
Compare all the possible versions.
I lay side by side the existing version, version B with X removed, and version C with X enhanced, and ask which is best.
Not which is easiest, but which I would aim for if I were starting all over again.
If X is still there, am I certain its purpose is necessary?
The answer to this gives me a tentatively preferred course of action in relation to element X.
I repeat this process for all the elements Anna suggested I could cut and look for interactions.
Perhaps if X goes then that changes the role for Y and makes it essential when it wasn’t before.
Or maybe if X goes then Y has to go too.
Hopefully an optimal set of choices will emerge from the murk.
And this is my plan. I’ll let you know how it works.
I’m hoping I can hang on to my excitement and not get too daunted by yet another major structural edit.
I just have to remember how much better I’m making my story.
How do you approach suggestions of aspects of your story to cut? Any pitfalls you’d like to warn me about?
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